Less than an hour away from the main events of the 2nd half (or "Phase 2") of Strikeforce heavyweight tournament bracket first round. In the other half of the bracket a few months ago, of course, Fedor Emelianenko lost to Antono Silva, while Sergei Kharitanov beat Andre Arlovski.
In tonight's half of the bracket, Josh Barnett takes on Brett Rogers while Alistair Overeem tackles Fabricio Werdum, the other man to beat Fedor recently.
One subplot of these fights is the question: just how many of these guys are on steroids? Overeem gained a huge amount of weight over his career; his defenders claim it was nothing unusual. But his body change looks akin to what Barry Bonds went through. Rogers is another physical freak, while Josh Barnett certainly has a checkered past in terms of PED use. Fabricio Werdum is probably the least suspect, but how many Brazilians were going around 250 pounds 20 years ago? Strikeforce has certainly been less concerned with stringent testing than the UFC in the past; now that they're owned by Zuffa, will that change?
The other subplot is: How do these guys line up against the best heavyweights in the UFC? Once a champion is crowned, how would he do against, say, the winner of Junior Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez?
Barnett vs. Rogers
Josh Barnett (29-5) is ranked 7th in the SportsRatings Heavyweight MMA top 25, and 25th in the overall (pound-for-pound) Top 100. Barnett's career has had its ups and downs, largely due to testing positive for steroids twice three times. One of those results cancelled an entire event during which he was to fight Fedor Emelianenko.
Barnett looked a bit less bulky and less "cut" than normal at the weigh in. Is this what he looks like when not on steroids? Or has he just had to cycle down to pass the tests? Either way, it seems that any advantages he had before might be lessened.
Rogers (11-2) has lost twice after a 10-0 start during which he didn't beat many big names. As a result, he's no longer in our Top 25 among heavyweights. But his losses are to Emelianenko and Overeem, which is nothing to be ashamed of. We think Rogers has a great chance to get a win against a possibly beyond-his-peak Barnett, but he has to overcome the spectre of those two losses to do so.
Ultimately, Rogers might be too one-dimensional for the top rung of the MMA heavyweight division. He's similar to Shane Carwin, who stormed to a 10-0 record but has lost twice now when his punching didn't get the job done. And Carwin has a wrestling background, so he's much less 1-dimensional in theory than Rogers. Barnett in his prime might have been equal to a Junior Dos Santos but those days might be gone.
Overeem vs. Werdum
Alistair Overeem (34-11) is another enigma in terms of his recent career. He racked up many losses when he was a smaller fighter, but since "getting big" he's 9 match winning streak in four different promotions. But few of his opponents have been top names. He beat Rogers after Fedor did, but before that lost to Kharitonov and Werdum, two of the other fighters in the brackets.
He has looked impressive in winning, particularly against Rogers, whom he dominated from the start. In this tournament he will face world-class competition, and if he comes out the winner, he can claim as much as Cain Velasquez to be the world heavyweight champion. However, in our ratings he's only #10 right now.
Who is ranked #1? Believe it or not, it's Fabricio Werdum (14-4-1), who earned an outrageous amount of points due to being the first man in a decade to beat Fedor. Facing Overeem, who is the Strikeforce champ, Werdum will have to prove himself in a hurry. Overeem was considerably less bulky and strong when he lost to Werdum, but Werdum is a lot bigger now, too. Werdum is perhaps the opposite of Brett Rogers in that he has a great BJJ ground game but limited punching power despite his Muay Thai credentials.
We'll find out, basically, whether Werdum's win over Fedor was a fluke. Despite that win, and Werdum's preview win over Overeem, Overeem still has to be considered a favorite.
Strikeforce winner vs. UFC heavyweights
The two promotions' heavyweight rosters are pretty evenly matched. Barnett, Rogers, Werdum, Overeem, Silva, Kharitonov, and Emelianenko are all UFC worthy (only Arlovski, of the tournament competitors, is not anymore). A few years ago, it was probably superior, because of the top slot.
A few years ago, Fedor was still unstoppable, and the UFC didn't really have a great champion. Brock Lesnar was just waiting to be exposed; Shane Carwin is one-dimensional; Frank Mir isn't any better than the Strikeforce fighters; and while Junior Dos Santos is good, he wouldn't necessarily have a better than par chance in the Strikeforce tournament.
But since Cain Velasquez dominated Brock Lesnar, and Fedor lost twice, the top spot among heavyweights has to go to Cain. The tie among the equally-matched stables is broken by the top slot: Cain is the new Fedor.
So for now, Velasquez is the new gold standard for MMA heavyweights. But the Strikeforce winner might get a chance to face the UFC champ. But that fighter would go into the fight against Velasquez an underdog.